Reports around the National Football League (NFL) and concussions continue to become more alarming, creating a whirlwind of discussion heading into the 2017 season. Football legends Michael Bennett, Terrell Davis and Kurt Warner are speaking up about their concerns. The day after a new study of 111 NFL players’ brains found that 110 showed signs of damage due to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman John Urschel quit the NFL to pursue a Ph.D. in mathematics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Earlier this month, ABC News reported that hundreds of players’ wives and widows are now connecting on a private Facebook page to discuss fears about their husbands’ risk for concussion and brain injury. Members include Janet Dorset, wife of Hall of Famer Tony Dorset, who has been diagnosed with the early signs of CTE.
As the NFL community continues the dialogue around this issue, some former players are also taking action to learn more about brain injury. A few months ago, former NFL wide receiver Donté Stallworth took time to visit us at the Lieber Institute for Brain Development (LIBD) to gain better insight into the latest research on treatment of brain injuries.
Current research on concussions overwhelmingly looks at ways to prevent or deal with the acute effects that appear shortly after the injury occurs. There is almost no effort underway to mitigate the long-term effects of injury facing individuals and their families. While prevention and acute treatment is critical, there is an even more urgent need to develop treatments for survivors to improve cognition, restore behavioral control, stabilize mood and reduce the impulsivity that can lead to acts of violence, rage and addictions.
Researchers at LIBD are developing promising new approaches to treatment to improve the cognitive and behavioral problems associated with the long-term effects of CTE. Our scientists are currently studying a drug that can help reverse the serious behavioral and cognitive problems long after a concussion happens. Concussions damage brain pathways, and LIBD’s new compound appears to remediate the behavior and cognitive problems related to these changes to the brain’s wiring.
Now in his late 30s and wanting to start a family, Stallworth sat down with us to share his concerns about concussions and how they create problems for professional football players’ years and even decades after retirement. While he remains optimistic, his shared concern with current and former NFL players around the issue of concussions highlights the need for continued scientific research into CTE. A better understanding of the molecular changes in the brain will lead to innovative and effective treatments that will help rebuild lives, families and maybe even brains.